This is my first blog, and my first blog post, so bear with me.
First, about me:
My wife took this Howard-Roark-esque snap of yours truly standing at the base of the World Trade Center in 199-ahem. It remains one of my favorite pics of me--I don't know if she intended me to be sandwiched perfectly between those rising arches, but man it sure worked out like she did--thanks, hon.
I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC--Alexandria and Annandale, Virginia. Started drawing at about six years of age, started drawing comics at 11.
Above we have a splash page from 'Disaster on the Oriental Express'--the first comics story I ever did. I include it here not because it's fantastic, but because I'm fascinated with the continuity of style over time. LOTS of detail; then, as now, people would ask 'How long did it take you to do that?' The fact is that then, as now, drawing was and is a zen exercise for me--the physical act of drawing, of putting marks on paper, puts me at ease, slows time, quiets my mind.
Above is a piece from 'The Resonator' (a graphic novel bundled into 2006's 'The Making of a Graphic Novel' from Watson-Guptill)--I don't remember how long it took. Not that long, really--I'm trained as a comics artist, and comics is a bulk business; you're paid by the piece, not the hour. For me it's not about how much or little time is spent; it's about working on it till it's done, and only your own instincts and peculiar aesthetic can tell you that. But again, you see the continuity; at 39, as at 11, I was fascinated with displaying every gory detail of the crash of a flying vehicle.
I studied philosophy and history at the University of Southern California, where I also met my wife, Jackie, the mother of my three kids, Scotia, Dagny and Lee. I got into a PhD program for philosophy at Rutgers University--for a while I was contemplating a career as an academic. My main philosophical interest was and remains the intricacies of Immanuel Kant's Critical Idealism--the idea that the visible world is a tapestry of appearances which partly masks and partly reveals some deeper spiritual truth speaks to me, as it does to a great many people, and Kant's system, though itself a labyrinthine juggernaut of detail that comes off at first as word salad, is very much in keeping with that insight. I left with a masters after two years, having decided that my real talents lay in illustration. In 1993 I started working in the American comics industry--also with stints as a designer/storyboard artist for Disney television animation, a creative consultant, and other things.
After 20 years in New York City, my family and I moved to London, which is where we are at the moment. At the moment I'm working on two projects--one is a graphic novel, a labor of love for several years now, my fourth kid, a science-fiction yarn/cautionary tale entitled 'The Furnace'. Here's a sample page:
'The Furnace' was drawn the old-school way--pencil and pen on paper, lettered by hand, but I'm in the process of coloring it the newfangled, photoshop way. Ah, well--I resist calling it 'digital painting', as they say nowadays. Painting is hard. Photoshop is...not. Not really. My agent in New York is attempting to secure a publishing deal; please wish me luck, more anon, will keep you posted.
The other project I'm completing is my book 'How to Draw Sci-fi Utopias and Dystopias', published by The Monacelli Press in New York, in just about a month as of this moment. VERY excitied--work on 'The Furnace' basically fell by the wayside for a year as I joyously generated/disgorged the content of 'How to...' Here's the cover:
I hope you get the idea pretty well just looking at this pic. The future, assuming there's gonna be one, is a 50/50--could be good, could be REAL bad. I'm fascinated by the fact of these two very different ways of presenting said future--hopeful, optimistic, bright and blue, a thing of straight lines, chrome surfaces, and shockingly chill, ergodynamically organized people (think 'Star Trek: The Next Generation') on the one hand, and dismal, hideous, a thing held together with duct tape and paper clips, rife with people that would just as soon slit your throat as go fishing (think 'The Road Warrior') on the other.
The truth is that, IF we're damned lucky, the future will be somewhere in the middle, as the present is. Someone on LBC ('Leading Britain's Conversation') said, just last night, that there's never been a better time to be alive than right now. Objectively speaking. Mm-hmm. The world has never been more peaceful, and more people have never lived in such conditions of copious material comfort than...right now. That's doubtless true (I know that pointing it out doesn't do a damn thing to brighten the day of someone who's kid is dying from dehydration in Africa)--so the question that tickles me is: whence this attitude of impending apocalypse that seems so very prevalent these days?
I know, the fact that the world's most powerful democracy could very well hand its presidency to the belligerent, vacuous son-and-heir of a mongrel bitch imaged above. But...there's nothing new under the sun, not really--we've voted in curs and buffoons before and will again, and history ticks on, and things do get better (in a two steps forward one step back sort of way) nonetheless.
Again: whence this sense of impending doom? It seems like we're just as justified in predicting a peaceful, prosperous, harmonious century ahead as we are of predicting the reverse.
Consider this: two guys go into a casino; both start pumping quarters into slot machines. After an hour, neither has won diddly, both are 50 bucks lighter. One guy stalks out, never-agains his butt over to the MGM Grand pool where his wife and kids are awaiting the bad news. He believes that he's justified in believing that he'll go on losing quarters forever, based on past experience. He's what philosophers would call a proper inductivist. The other guy keeps right on pumping quarters in--and with each successive loss he's actually encouraged. He thinks (and who's to say he's wrong?) that with each successive loss he's one step closer to that big win--and every new loss, for him, counts as evidence that he's one step closer. A lot of lives have been wrecked in Trump-owned casinos by this brand of thinking--but occasionally, of course, it pays off. And for our second guy, the committed and intransigent counter-inductivist, the rarity of those payoffs counts, again, as evidence for the truth of counter-inductivism! Magical thinking? Well, for those of us who don't have crystal balls at least, it does seem a bit of a mystery who is more justified, from the standpoint of pure reason: guy A or guy B.
Here's Rick and Carl, living in a situation that some might argue is slightly dystopian. Are they justified in believing things are gonna get better for them? From the inductivist's standpoint, probably not. Their lives follow a strikingly regular pattern: arrive at new community, have a few good weeks, realize that said community's cultish leader either is or is enemy to a vicious psychopath, trash (or be trashed by) said community, hit the road, rinse and repeat. (Few seem to remark on the gorge-raising, retina-searing stench of rotting flesh that must be ubiquitous in this world--can you get nose blind to that? And where are the clouds of flies? The cholera, diphtheria, malaria, and God knows what else floating around from millions of corpses putrefying in the Georgia sun (brother it does get hot down there)--sorry, I digress).
More to the point: Are we justified in believing that things are gonna get (so very much!) worse for us? What I want to point out is the extent to which our temperaments, our native skew towards inductivism or counter-inductivism, dictate the way in which we see our collective future unfolding.
Soylent Green remains one of my very favorite movies--I first saw it when I was about 12 and have never loved it more than now. We're pretty darn close to the time in which the movie is set (2022)--and Manhattan has never been a better place to live (if you can afford it) than now--it's about as far as you can get from the seething, Boschian inferno foretold in that 1973 classic. Who'd a thunk it? I certainly didn't think things would be so swimmingly lovely (again, for so many people, but obviously not for all) in 2016, back when I started officially fearing for the future back around 1980.
The psychological pendulum swings: we go from periods in which the future is seen through rose-tinted, utopian glasses, to periods in which it's seen through Burgess Meredith's Twilight Zone Coke bottle specs:
All this is a big part of what How to Draw Sci-fi Utopias and Dystopias is about. It's not just an instruction manual--it's a meditation on sci-fi and its function in our lives, organized around this stark contrast between the ways in which we see the future. I'll be revisiting this again soon--thanks for reading and again, welcome to my blog!